Screening for anxiety in adolescent and adult women a systematic review for the women's preventive services initiative

Heidi D. Nelson, Amy Cantor, Miranda Pappas, Chandler Weeks

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: Anxiety disorders are infrequently recognized during routine health care even though they are common in adolescent girls and adult women. Purpose: To evaluate evidence on the effectiveness of screening for anxiety disorders in primary care in improving symptoms, function, and quality of life; harms of screening; accuracy of screening instruments; and effectiveness and harms of treatments. Data Sources: English-language searches of Ovid MEDLINE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and Health and Psychosocial Instruments (1 January 1996 to 4 November 2019); (November 2019); and reference lists of studies and reviews. Study Selection: Studies that enrolled adolescent girls and adult women not currently diagnosed with anxiety disorders, including pregnant or postpartum women, and compared clinical outcomes and harms between women who were and were not screened; diagnostic accuracy studies of screening instruments; and systematic reviews of randomized trials of behavioral and pharmacologic treatments. Data Extraction: Dual extraction and quality assessment of individual studies. Data Synthesis: No studies evaluated the overall effectiveness or harms of screening. Thirty-three studies and 2 systematic reviews (171 studies; 112 574 participants) evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of 27 screening instruments and their variations against a clinical diagnosis or other instruments. Most demonstrated moderate to high accuracy for adults (Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale: Sensitivity, 70% to 97%; specificity, 50% to 89%), pregnant and postpartum women (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale: Sensitivity, 74%; specificity, 64%), and adolescents (Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders: Sensitivity, 64% to 74%; specificity, 64% to 73%). Anxiety symptoms improved with cognitive behavioral therapy (246 randomized controlled trials; 17 209 participants) and antianxiety medications (126 randomized controlled trials; 8225 participants). Limitation: Limited data on long-term harms of treatment and no treatment trials in pregnant or postpartum women. Conclusion: Evidence on the overall effectiveness and harms of screening for anxiety is insufficient. Most screening instruments are moderately to highly accurate. Behavioral therapies and antianxiety medications effectively improve anxiety symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-41
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 7 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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